Post-Everything — The Sweet Release Of Death’s self-titled LP turns 5.
“Martijn Tevel, Alicia Breton Ferrer and Sven Engelsman’s friendship started at high school in Spijkenisse, a suburban town just beyond the southwest corner of Rotterdam. It’s also the place where Erik de Jong (Spinvis) and Afrojack were born. When you bring up Spijkenisse around The Sweet Release of Death however, you didn’t get many cheers or boasts. More likely, you’d get a collective sigh of fatigue. It’s one of the default ways to send Tevel spiraling into one of his patented defeatist monologues. The guy just couldn’t help himself, and he always brought pure entertainment whenever he indulged. It seemed Spijkenisse brought out both the worst and the best in Tevel, because he was usually at his best when he went full nihilist and gleefully basked in his own misfortunes. He always had his dark comedy act where he pulled out all the dramaturgical stops. The bigger the audience, the better.
Spijkenisse is quite literally one big cul de sac, a municipality bricked in-between dense industrial areas. The only way out of town is across one bridge on each side. In other words, if something would go awry in one of those areas, you’d more or less be stuck in Spijkenisse. There’d be nowhere to run. This type of doomsday scenario permeated these pitch-black short stories Tevel would post on his social media. One minute everything was fine, but swiftly, his protagonists found themselves in the midst of some kind of unpleasant predicament or catastrophe. Tevel is an entertaining storyteller: dark, disturbing, and frequently hilarious. That acidic humor is something he shares with Alicia, who raged a similar sensibility within her visual art and filmmaking.
On Wednesday, February 28, 1996, an accident at industrial area Europoort caused an enormous orange cloud that hovered above Spijkenisse. In a lengthy article for Dutch magazine The Daily Indie, Alicia recalled it quite clearly: “I was going to go to one of those afternoon sessions at primary school where we all went to do crafting activities. When the alarm went off, I was at a friend’s house. I had not let my parents know, who were of course completely sick from the stress. My grandmother — may her soul rest in peace forever — walked with a cloth over her mouth all over Spijkenisse to go and look for me.”
“It looked like a nuclear war zone,” Tevel added. The cause of the eerie orange cloud was a bunch of chemicals released during a fire in a warehouse of transport company CMI. The wind wasn’t very favorable that day, so the poisonous vapors blew towards Spijkenisse. All windows and doors had to be closed. Fortunately, the damage was limited: no one died. But that ominous what-if scenario creeped into Martijn, Alicia and Sven’s collective mind prematurely. And as it turns out, it never really left.”
This is an excerpt from Rotterdam Goddamn: an outsider’s testimony, the book I wrote in a blind frenzied panic last year, salvaging scattered memories and impressions of my city’s small but vibrant underground scene. Out of all the Dutch bands I encountered over the past decade, I count The Sweet Release Of Death as making the biggest personal impact. And, well, it’s pretty obvious why.
First of all, this is a noise-pop trio calling themselves The Sweet Release Of Death. As hard as I tried in my book to bring more context to their music, really, this is all you need to know to understand what they’re about. They are the definition of an elemental band, which is an increasing rarity. Three different-minded individuals who have been friends forever, and are able to channel an energy no one else could replicate. Replace anyone of these people in the band, and The Sweet Release Of Death ceases to be The Sweet Release Of Death.
The band’s self-titled second album turns five next Friday, and to me, it fortified them as one of the greatest rock bands I’ve ever witnessed live. There’s something so irreverent and delightfully corrupt about their music: guitarist Martijn Tevel builds a lot of effects from scratch, which is one of the big reasons why The Sweet Release Of Death are the perfect specimen of a band in these frantic times. They don’t care about indie rock’s supposed ‘legacy’: their music comes from the gut, from something a lot deeper than mere stylistics.
“Partly because of that innate curiosity, The Sweet Release of Death’s self-titled album is one of my favorite albums of all time. And make no mistake, the late producer Corno Zwetsloot still stood at the forefront of the album: the band wished to record as much material with him as possible before he could no longer continue. ‘Fox’ for example, still features some of his searing guitar work. I’d like to think ‘The End’, with its lack of bass parts, acts as a powerful eulogy to him. Omitting the song’s connective tissue was like an acknowledgment of an absence, and congruently, a promise to overcome that absence.
Alicia deliberately left that space open (because she couldn’t think of a part), giving Martijn and Sven the reins to unleash with abandon. It’s such a power move to not only start your album with your heaviest song but to do so without even displaying your full sonic potential. It translates so organically to the personality of this band: the element of drama from which the music ascends, underpinned by a toughness, a swagger, and a poise to keep the tone sleek and snappy. This is a tabula rasa moment when a band truly defines itself.
‘Post-Everything’ is a brooding, elegant beast that achieves several degrees of tension in under three minutes that would take a lot of bands twice as long. The drums sound like something DJ Shadow would sample for UNKLE’s Psyence Fiction album. ‘India’, ‘Downstairs’ and ‘Does A Bear Shit In The Woods?’ contain a multitude of whip-smart twists and turns, yet none of them even pass the five-minute mark. The creativity on this record is just uncanny, even when the band keeps it simple and succinct. ‘Kitty Swim Club’ and ‘103’ are taut, minimalist bursts performed with no wasted movements. The music video for the latter — directed by Annemiek Gouwen — summarises the band so incredibly well. These two goth kids skipping around a spooky white-clad spectre, smudging its garments with ink-black paint. It’s cheeky, wholesome, yet a little morbid at the same time.
The Sweet Release of Death don’t carry themselves with a gravitas or self-seriousness that a lot of other noise bands do. Sure, their music actively courts some of the most acute emotions a human being can have, but the band never wallows in them either. There’s always a redeeming quality, cosmic joke or foolhardy act of defiance that overrides all the bleakness. Death, depression and destruction aren’t portrayed as ultimate downers but as tokens of our inherently flawed humanity. And I feel that’s where The Sweet Release of Death summon a lot of their inner strength, and why they seem to only come closer together at stages when a lot of bands would have already imploded.”
Buy The Sweet Release Of Death’s music here.